The Midwich Cuckoos

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The Midwich Cuckoos
First edition
Author John Wyndham
Cover artist Dick Hart
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Science fiction
Publisher Michael Joseph
Publication date
Media type hardcover, softcover
Pages 239
OCLC 20458143
Preceded by The Chrysalids
Followed by The Outward Urge

The Midwich Cuckoos is a science fiction novel written by English author John Wyndham, published during 1957. It has been filmed twice as Village of the Damned, with releases during 1960 and 1995.

Plot summary[edit]

Ambulances arrive at two traffic accidents blocking the only roads into the (fictional) British village of Midwich, Winshire. Attempting to approach the village, one ambulanceman becomes unconscious. Suspecting gas poisoning, the army is notified. They discover that a caged canary becomes unconscious upon entering the affected region, but regains consciousness when removed. Further experiments reveal the region to be a hemisphere with a diameter of 2 miles (3.2 km) around the village. Aerial photography shows an unidentifiable silvery object on the ground in the centre of the affected zone.

After one day the effect vanishes, along with the unidentified object, and the villagers wake with no apparent ill effects. Some months later they realise that every woman of child-bearing age is pregnant - even those who are single or not otherwise in relationships with men - with all indications that the pregnancies were caused by xenogenesis during the period of unconsciousness that has become to be referred to as the "Dayout".

When the 31 boys and 30 girls are born they appear normal except for their unusual, golden eyes and pale, silvery skin. These children have none of the genetic characteristics of their parents. As they grow up, it becomes increasingly apparent that they are, at least in some respects, not human. They possess telepathic abilities, and can control others' actions. The Children (they are referred to with a capital C) have two distinct group minds: one for the boys and another for the girls. Their physical development is accelerated compared with that of humans; upon reaching the age of nine, they appear to be sixteen-year-olds.

The Children protect themselves as much as possible using a form of mind control. One young man who accidentally hits a Child in the hip while driving a car is made to drive into a wall and kill himself. A bull which chased the Children is forced into a pond to drown. The villagers form a mob and try to burn down the Midwich Grange, where the Children are taught and live, but the Children make the villagers attack each other.

The Military Intelligence department learn that the same phenomenon has occurred in four other parts of the world, including an Inuit settlement in the Canadian Arctic, a small township in Australia's Northern Territory, a Mongolian village and the town of Gizhinsk in eastern Russia, northeast of Okhotsk. The Inuit killed the newborn Children, sensing they were not their own, and the Mongolians killed the Children and their mothers. The Australian babies had all died within a few weeks, suggesting that something may have gone wrong with the xenogenesis process. The Russian town was recently "accidentally" destroyed by the Soviet government, using an "atomic cannon" from a range of 50–60 miles.

The Children are aware of the threat against them, and use their power to prevent any aeroplanes from flying over the village. During an interview with a Military Intelligence officer the Children explain that to solve the problem they must be destroyed. They explain it is not possible to kill them unless the entire village is bombed, which results in civilian deaths. The Children present an ultimatum: they want to migrate to a secure location, where they can live unharmed. They demand aeroplanes from the government.

An elderly, educated Midwich resident (Gordon Zellaby) realises the Children must be killed as soon as possible. As he has only a few weeks left to live due to a heart condition, he feels an obligation to do something. He has acted as a teacher and mentor of the Children and they regard him with as much affection as they can have for any human, permitting him to approach them more closely than they allow others to. One evening, he – in effect abusing their trust – hides a bomb in his projection equipment, while showing the Children a movie about the Greek islands. Zellaby sets the timer on the bomb, killing himself and all of the Children.

Major characters[edit]

  • Gordon Zellaby – an academically-minded man
  • Richard Gayford – a published writer and the narrator
  • Bernard Westcott – the middle man between Midwich and the military


The "cuckoo" in the novel's title is in reference to the bird, of which nearly 60 species are brood parasites, laying their eggs in the nests of other birds.[1] These species are specifically obligate brood parasites, in that they only reproduce in this fashion, with the best-known example being the European common cuckoo. The cuckoo egg hatches earlier than the host's, and the cuckoo chick grows faster; in most cases the chick evicts the eggs or young of the host species, while encouraging the host to keep pace with its high growth rate [2][3]

Critical reception[edit]

Damon Knight wrote that Wyndham's novelistic treatment "is deadly serious, and I'm sorry to say, deadly dull... about page 90 the story begins to bog down under layers of polite restraint, sentimentality, lethargy and women's-magazine masochism, and it never lifts its head long again."[4] Galaxy columnist Floyd C. Gale, reviewing the original issue, praised the novel as "a most off-trail and well-written invasion yarn."[5] Thomas M. Wagner of concludes that the novel "remains a cracking good read despite some obviously dated elements".[6]



Wyndham began work on a sequel novel, Midwich Main, which he abandoned after only a few chapters.[7]



Character 1982 2003
Bernard Westcott Charles Kay
Richard Gayford William Gaunt Bill Nighy
Janet Gayford Rosalynd Adams Sarah Parish
Gordon Zellaby Manning Wilson Clive Merrison
Angela Zellaby Pauline Yates Mariella Brown
Ferelleyn Zellaby Jenny Quayle Katherine Tozer
Alan Hughes Gordon Dulieu Nicholas R. Bailey
William Casey O'Brien

The novel was adapted by William Ingram in three 30-minute episodes for the BBC World Service, first broadcast between 9 and 23 December 1982. It was directed by Gordon House, with music by Roger Limb of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. It is regularly repeated on BBC Radio 4 Extra. An adaptation by Dan Ribellato in two 60-minute episodes for BBC Radio 4 was broadcast first between 30 November and 7 December 2003. It was directed by Polly Thomas, with music by Chris Madin. A CD version of this set was released by BBC Audiobooks during 2007.

Allusions/references in other works[edit]

  • The Stepford Cuckoos, a group of New X-Men characters, were inspired partly by the Midwich Cuckoos.
  • The Golden in The Establishment were a trio of characters who looked like adult Midwich Cuckoos.
  • In The Simpsons episode "Wild Barts Can't Be Broken", the children go to see a movie entitled The Bloodening, a parody of Village of the Damned. The children in the movie look like those from the movie adaptation of The Midwich Cuckoos.
  • The Befort Children from the anime Fantastic Children were also inspired by The Midwich Cuckoos.
  • "1440 Cuckoo", a song composed during 2006 by British singer/songwriter Pete Doherty, was inspired by the serial number of the Penguin edition of the novel which Doherty read while in rehabilitation at the Priory in London.
  • In Smallville episode 9 of season 3, entitled "Asylum" (2004), Adam Knight is reading The Midwich Cuckoos, which proves to be predictive of that character's nature.
  • In Catherine Jinks's book Evil Genius, teachers of the main character, Cadel, speculate about the possibility of his physical resemblance to the children in The Midwich Cuckoos.
  • The plot of Beetle in the Anthill, a novel by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, has some similarities. Authorities of Earth have a great fear about the group of foundling children, alleged to be Wanderers' spies and probably even non-human. These children were moved out of Earth by a secret order of government, but later one of them came back to Earth and was killed by Earth's security service.
  • The weekly webcomic FreakAngels, written by Warren Ellis and illustrated by Paul Duffield, is also based somewhat on The Midwich Cuckoos. It portrays characters of a similar type who have grown into adulthood.[12]
  • In Elizabeth Bowen's 1964 novel The Little Girls, a character notes another's unease at the impending birth of his grandchild; she notes that the man is terrified of children, and ruefully regrets having loaned him The Midwich Cuckoos to read: ‘Frank's terrified that some Hostile Race, which will go on to drive everyone else out, is at any moment going to begin to be born’ (The Little Girls, 229). This passage has been interpreted as representing the anxieties of the Cold War.
  • For the videogame Silent Hill, the local elementary school is named Midwich Elementary School.
  • In Hearts in Atlantis, a Stephen King novel, the movie based on the novel is referred to by Bobby Garfield, one of the protagonists of the novel. He thinks the actor who played the teacher was "ripshit," and displayed a mature understanding of noble sacrifice in the death of the character.
  • The song "Children of the Damned" from the Number of the Beast (album) album by the Heavy Metal band Iron Maiden is inspired somewhat by The Midwich Cuckoos.
  • 'Crowning Glory', the fictional beer served in all the pubs in Edgar Wright's 2013 movie The World's End is brewed by the equally-fictional Winshire Brewery, named after the county in the novel.[13]


  1. ^ Payne R.B. (1997) "Family Cuculidae (Cuckoos)", pp. 508–45 in del Hoyo J, Elliott A, Sargatal J (eds) (1997). Handbook of the Birds of the World Volume 4; Sandgrouse to Cuckoos Lynx Edicions:Barcelona. ISBN 84-87334-22-9
  2. ^ Adams, Stephen (2009-01-04). "Cuckoo chicks dupe foster parents from the moment they hatch". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 2010-04-30. Cuckoo chicks start to mimic the cries that their foster parents' young make from the moment they hatch, a scientist has proved. 
  3. ^ Biology (4th edition) NA Campbell, p. 117 'Fixed Action Patterns' (Benjamin Cummings NY, 1996) ISBN 0-8053-1957-3
  4. ^ Knight, Damon (1967). In Search of Wonder. Chicago: Advent. ISBN 0-911682-31-7. 
  5. ^ Gale, Floyd C. (October 1958). "Galaxy's 5 Star Shelf". Galaxy Science Fiction. p. 130. 
  6. ^ Wagner, Thomas M. (2004). "The Midwich Cuckoos". SF 
  7. ^ "Vivisection": Schoolboy "John Wyndham's" FirstPublication? by David Ketterer, Science Fiction Studies #78, Volume 26, Part 2, July 1999. Retrieved February 26, 2015
  8. ^ "Movie is Cuckoo". Windsor Star. 9 April 1981. p. 29. 
  9. ^ "Future Projects". Film Bulletin. Philadelphia: Wax Publications. 49: 20. July 1981. 
  10. ^ Movie review Archived December 30, 2006, at the Wayback Machine. at You Call Yourself a Scientist, retrieved on 2007-03-02.
  11. ^ "Cuckoos at Bangpleng (1994)". And You Call Yourself a Scientist!. Retrieved 2017-03-11. 
  12. ^ "Interlude – Page 3". FreakAngels. Retrieved 29 May 2010. 
  13. ^ "Hidden Secrets of the World's End". 2013-07-16. Retrieved 2017-03-11.